Letters From the Editor: Let's talk about Costa Mesa's future

March 30, 2011|By John Canalis

Costa Mesa is in the public policy fight of the decade. And that's saying something for a town that has seen bitter battles in recent years over illegal immigration, day laborers, medical marijuana dispensaries and, of course, the fairgrounds.

For those who need to get caught up, the city announced plans to lay off nearly half of its workers, one of whom jumped off of City Hall and died. A public employee union this week targeted the mayor in a campaign-style attack ad, blasting him for working in his Irish bar instead of comforting distraught city employees.

Rare Costa Mesa datelines appeared on stories in The New York Times and Washington Post, national newspapers that used the City of the Arts to illustrate, at the local level, a nationwide debate. Comment boards have been smoking with vitriol.


At the heart of all this is a deep difference in opinion over the city's finances. The conservative council majority says generous pension obligations and salary costs are "unsustainable." The employee associations assert that four council members are crying wolf so they can win reforms based more on political ideology than on fiscal necessity.

So who's got the story straight?

Hoping to find out, Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia and I recently reassembled our Feet to the Fire Forum team from the fall campaign season with Newport Beach Independent Editor Roger Bloom, Voice of OC Editor Norberto Santana Jr. and Register columnist Frank Mickadeit.

We engaged in long discussions around Barbara's dinner table about Costa Mesa's proposal to run City Hall "more like a business." We were set to go with a March forum on that subject when, on St. Patrick's Day, city employee Huy Pham, 29, took his own life. We delayed the forum so the community could recover from a terrible shock.

But in spite of that tragedy, the conversation about Costa Mesa's future still needs to take place. So much remains at stake — some 200 jobs and 109,960 residents who will still need services.

So the panelists invited a group that should be able to explain why Costa Mesa needs to outsource — or why it doesn't. And this is a group that represents the polarity at either end of the tug-of-war — labor and conservatives — as a well as a conservative councilwoman who is emerging as something of a populist foil.

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